Monday, April 30, 2007

Edline--Success or Scourge?

Of course, the answer to that question will depend almost entirely upon who you ask. Here is a the lead from a story in the Washington Post about the 24/7 access to school records of their children that Edline affords parents:
At the beginning of this semester, Laura Iriarte Miguel switched anatomy classes.

No big deal. Students at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg can shift courses around at the start of each term. But when Iriarte Miguel remained on the roll in the wrong class for several days, her parents began receiving notices from Edline -- an online, up-to-the-sec grade-tracking program used in Montgomery County middle and high schools -- about her unexcused absences and zeros on quizzes.

Finally, one night at dinner, in between bites of spaghetti, her parents grilled her about her truancy and her rotten anatomy grades. She hadn't told them she had opted into another class.

"They wanted to know why-why-why-why," Iriarte Miguel says. She set them straight, but the air was still poisoned. The suspicion, she says, "accumulated in the back of their minds during the whole day."

This could be a simple story of parental expectations and teenage lackadaisicalness. But it's also a tale of an innovation at the nexus of a morphing world -- symbolic of the changing nature of childhood, America's abiding faith in education and the unforgiving quality of technology.


The result is double-edged: Edline -- and other programs like it, such as SchoolFusion and School Center -- provide students, teachers and parents with an online meeting place to discuss day-to-day assignments, tests and grades. But it also enables parents to keep track of a kid's academic progress -- or lack of progress -- in a heretofore unthinkably micromanagerial way. Parents can know everything; children have no wiggle room. Gone is the fudge factor, the white lie. A student makes a D on a quiz, a D shows up on Edline. No matter that a student leads a discussion in class or puts forth a cogent point. Or has the possibility to retake the quiz, make up the poor grade or do extra credit work over the weekend.

This swift knowledge of success or failure can drive a wedge into families.
I had noted Edline in a previous post about helicopter parents. Last month, I noted:
What strikes me as odd is that the reliance on technology has replaced a basic parenting skill, that of being personally involved in your child's lives. Programs like Edline display a couple of troubling traits. First... Edline is like spying and displays a lack of trust in your child.


Edline says to kids, it doesn't matter what you say, we are going to check now, rather than hold you accountable later. Proponents may claim real time corrections are possible with the technology, but real time corrections don't serve the child well because the correction doesn't carry enough consequences to be real.


Second, Edline and other technology tools give the adults in a child's life the veneer of being involved, without actually getting their hands dirty. In a age when teachers and other education officials are begging parents to be invovled, providing a tool like Edline will not help. On the face of it, the tool seems a little hypocritical. Edline says to parents, here is a way for you to be "involved" in your kids' education without acutally bothering the teachers. The technology also gives the teacher an out, permitting them to post the hard numbers on a childs' education performance without posting anything qualitative about that child. Since most parents whose kids are going well are unlikely to question the teacher, the teacher also gets a pass from being involved in that child's life and for those students stuggling academically, it is a statistically good bet that the parents may not care enought to pester the teacher. Everyone but the child gets a free pass.

Third, and finally, technology is a tool, it should not be a substitute. I have often argued that people often look at technology as an end rather than a means to an end. Edline and these other techno-parenting tools prove my point. They are the bells and whistles to parenting, not a substitute for solid, personal parenting. Furthermore, it turns parenting into data analysis. What are my kids trends in math, in science, in English? How are they doing with test taking skills? While these seem like important questions, and they are, they tend to supplant actually quizzing your children about their education by providing cold numbers.
I still hold these views. Returning to the lead story in the Post article, I am struck by these words:
her parents began receiving notices from Edline -- an online, up-to-the-sec grade-tracking program used in Montgomery County middle and high schools -- about her unexcused absences and zeros on quizzes.
When this girl's parents recieved notices (plural) they began to get suspicious? While this may be shoddy writing, I still have to believe that my parents at least would have aksed why I got a zero on a quiz or an unexcused absence after the FIRST notice. The fact that several notices were needed for these particular parents to question underscores my concern that this technology does not help the student at all and certainly does nothing for the relationship between parents and teachers.

Here is another snippet of the story:
Chris Barclay is a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education whose daughter goes to Einstein High School in Kensington. Although the students at Einstein call it "Dreadline," he says that the grade-tracking service "helps hold your child and your child's teacher accountable." The software allows working parents to stay connected.


Carol Blum, Montgomery's director of high school instruction and achievement, says that Edline has helped to cut down on the number of e-mails and phone calls that parents make to teachers.

In the past, she says, "it wasn't as easy to be in touch with parents." A teacher would send out an interim report if the student was in danger of failing and by the time the parent received it, "it was almost too late," she says. "This way if a student is in trouble in a course, a parent can see it in a timely manner."
Parents think they are being "involved" in their kids' lives, but in fact they are not. The technology is a substitute for real communication between parents, students and teachers, it is not actual communication. Edline makes communication "simple" without really providing any context. Does it cut down on phone calls and emails, I am sure it does, but that doesn't mean it is better. as a service provided, I have to keep my clients informed and I expect teachers to do the same. But with this tool, the teachers and parents look like they are communicating when they really aren't. Edline provides the data about a childs' education, but does it really provide "information?" My answer is no, it does not.

Information is data that has a use, a purpose. The fact that a student got X grade on a test or Y grade on a quiz says nothing. It is a number, a bit of data. While a whole series of numbers can give a trend ("data analysis" parenting) it still says nothing useful. Only when the paretns begin to dig a little deeper do they understand what the numbers represent and learn information. Perhaps Johnny's math grade is suffering because he misunderstood a key concept and has been applying it worng? Maybe Jenny's Social Studies grade is slipping because she isn't doing the necessary reading or is more than a little distracted by the hot guy sitting next to her. Who knows, but until parents dig a little deeper, all Edline gives is data.

"Involved" parents talk to teachers, on the phone at least and in person if possible. Involved parents have regulary communication, not just data posts, about their child's education.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Involved parents have to work very hard to stay connected.

Prior to adding an electronic grade program, (my district uses Lettergrade now) it was very difficult to know how my child was performing at his Junior High. Twelve and thirteen year old boys are just not that great at “sharing” and masters at hiding information when they want to. His teachers had a roster of 125 students each. That’s a lot of parents to connect with and as a result very little contact resulted. After all, my child was passing, but just barely and capable of so much more. He needed to be pushed by me as well as his teachers.

Lettergrade made it possible to observe without being intrusive. When homework was not turned in the proof was there in black & white.

If you are inclined to be a “helicopter” parent you will be one, whether or not your school uses an online grading system. Please don’t paint all parents with the same brush.

And I agree with you. Some parents are just not that involved.